Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside. No better time for soup than today. As I gathered the ingredients, I found I had Italian barley, Italian olive oil from our friends Ann and André, and Italian wild mountain oregano that I just scored from Metropolitan Seafood. With all local produce from the Wrightstown Farmer’s Market (can you believe it – in December!!!), I was set to go Italian. Presto!
Which got me thinking fondly of my dear friend Angela, who I met when she attended one of my cooking classes many years ago. She has come to quite a few classes, however, I could never figure out why because she’s an amazing Italian cook. She’s even done a video series for her family to document the recipes her family brought from Italy.
The wild mountain oregano is nothing like the regular dried oregano we’re used to. I never know what to say when my students ask about dried herb amounts for recipes because I never, ever use them. To me they are way too strong. That has changed now that I’ve found this ambrosial dried exotic. Just a tiny sprinkle, mind you. The flavor – you’ll have to scout some because I can’t describe it (I’m not the Italian Proust, unfortunately).
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large leek, white part only and finely sliced
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 2 large carrots, finely chopped
- 8 ounces crimini or baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 9 cups water
- 1 cup hulled barley
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ head escarole, coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon Italian wild mountain oregano
- Place olive oil, leek, celery, and carrots in a large heavy pot and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are starting to turn light brown.
- Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes until cooked through.
- Add barley, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes until the barley is tender.
- Add the escarole and cook for 1 minute until wilted.
- Add wild oregano. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve hot.
Are you sitting down? I don’t use broth when I make soups. This always sends a shock wave through the room. I rely totally on my aromatics, in this case leeks, celery, and carrots and the freshest organic produce I can get my hands on. Cooking the aromatics on a medium-high heat for a longer time than is usually called for (the standard “until transparent” in soup recipes) creates a deep flavor that bursts when the water is added. Hence, the added time for making homemade broth or the added salt of packaged broths is avoided. I do save my vegetable scraps and make broth for the lighter Southeast Asian recipes that need a bit of a boost or for cooking grains. These broths I pop into the freezer to have them when needed. We’ll talk about roasted vegetable broth another time for it is worthy of it’s own conversation.
I loved this soup. By caramelizing the aromatic vegetables and then using the deep-flavored crimini mushrooms, I coaxed out an incredible umami-filled winter soup that stood on it’s own (I usually want bread with my soups). The wild mountain oregano was such a delicate, floral touch that pulled all of the flavors together. If you don’t have any wild oregano, substitute Italian parsley and forget that other oregano.
For Angela Bresadola